Poor preparations cost Africa in London

Mahmoud Alaa Eldin sits on the ptich after being knocked out of the Olympics by Japan.

If anything is to be re-learnt from the continent's chequered performance at the 2012 Olympic Games football tournament, it remains an uncomfortable, sobering, truth - that talent is no substitute for meticulous long-term planning.

And Africa certainly has talent, as it has repeatedly proven over the years.

"African football, certainly, does not lack the talent to win, but its administrators must learn that they must plan," Fifa president Sepp Blatter told me while discussing the disappointing state of the African game.

"Other countries and continents take time to plan, and to strategise for success. African football must do the same."

From the golden glory of Nigeria and Cameroon in 1996 and 2000, respectively, and then Nigeria's silver at the Beijing Games four years ago, to 2012 - when no African side reached the last four of either the men's or women's events.

Of the six teams that represented the continent in the men's and women's tournaments, only Senegal, who defeated Uruguay 2-0, and Egypt, in beating Belarus 3-1, managed to get wins in London.

Gabon and Morocco crashed out of the men's tournament after the group stages, as did Cameroon and South Africa in the women's event.

Of course, the general statistics mask the rather humiliating performances by the Indomitable Lionesses and Banyana Banyana, whose Olympic debuts leave them with full plates of food for thought.

Cameroon's comprehensive losses to Brazil (0-5), Great Britain (0-3) and New Zealand (1-3) respectively, and South Africa's losses to Sweden and Canada - scoring once while conceding seven - expose the huge gap the African women's game has to close.

One of the few highlights for the ladies was South Africa's surprisingly-respectable 0-0 draw against Japan, the reigning women's world champions.

"Our overall performance at this tournament is a clear indication that African football still has a lot of catching up to do," says Aliou Cisse, the 2002 World Cup defender who now works as assistant coach of Senegal's Olympic team.

"If we want success, then we have to plan for it and work very hard for it. That takes time and a lot of effort. There are no shortcuts."

But as Gabon coach Claude Mbourounot bluntly observes, following his team's first-round exit, those running African football at the national association and continental levels need to took a good look in the mirror.

"African football suffers from a lack of organisation and structure. We need to be organised," he said.

"We (those responsible for coaching and managing teams) are often frustrated by people and institutions that do not understand our administrative and technical needs."

South Africa's Portia Modise celebrating their only goal at the 2012 Olympics
One of few African highlights at the Olympics was a spectacular goal from South Africa's Portia Modise

And as obvious as the administrative deficiencies in the African men's game are, the womens' game suffers from an even worse lack of financial attention and proper technical support.

None of the two teams that represented the continent has a functioning women's league, as is the case in most African countries.

"In Africa, there are several people that even question the rationale for supporting women's football," says a visibly angry Lydia Nsekera, president of the Burundi Football Federation and the first woman in the 108-year history of Fifa to sit on the world governing body's executive committee.

"It is clear that without regular league competition for our women throughout the continent, there is no way our national teams will be able to effectively compete at tournaments like the Olympics."

After the disappointing performance of Africa at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where only Ghana's Black Stars made it to the knock-out stages of the competition, the Olympic failures serve as another timely reminder to the continent's administrative chiefs - reminding them that preparations off the pitch, as well as on it, are the only way the continent will conquer the mountaintop.

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